By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
In the interest of full disclosure, I was indeed a member of Team Peter Cehlarik at one point. I’m actually pretty sure we all were. Listen, it’s like a bleached hair or puka shell necklace phase. We all had them and their lingering evidence exists only to shame us out of repeating such terrible, terrible mistakes.
Taking myself back to the days of Team Cehlarik, when the Bruins were repeatedly plugging bottom-six role players Joakim Nordstrom and David Backes into ill-fitting, top-six roles through the first half of the 2018-19 season, I was left wondering why Cehlarik wasn’t getting the call. It didn’t seem to make much sense to me when you sorta knew what you had in those pieces compared to what we didn’t know about Cehlarik. Again, not every phase is for the best.
But the more we saw from Cehlarik and what he could (and couldn’t) do at the game’s top level, the more it all made sense.
And makes Cehlarik’s recent whining to the Slovak media, essentially blaming Bruce Cassidy for his NHL failings since jumping to the North American game four years ago, all the sillier.
Let’s start with the obvious: Cehlarik was given 40 NHL games to show what he could do. 40! (I’m pretty sure Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn would commit arson if it meant getting a 40-game sample with the B’s.) From 2016 through last year, Cehlarik was given over 436 even-strength minutes to show the Bruins what he could do. He was often paired with David Krejci (and then Charlie Coyle) over that sample, too, giving him ideal linemates. Over that span, Cehlarik produced just four goals and eight points. Fellow NHL wannabe Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson produced just as much as Cehlarik in 116 fewer minutes, and 2017 trade deadline pickup Drew Stafford had three goals and seven points in 200 fewer minutes.
Cehlarik, at his very best, was giving the Bruins production comparable to a similar NHL tweener and a deadline pickup they added for a late-round pick. While starting over 71 percent of his shifts in the attacking zone, mind you. If you’re earning a spot on a win-now team — and particularly with a skill center like Krejci or Coyle — you simply had to bring more to the table.
But Cehlarik never did (not enough to elevate him from fill-in to fixture at the very least), and his three-game 2019-20 run before the B’s pulled the plug and returned him back to the AHL was another example of that.
Beginning his 2019 preseason with a bang and in a make-or-break camp, an injury kept Cehlarik out of the remainder of Boston’s preseason slate and he was sent down to Providence after going unclaimed on waivers. (This was another problem when it came to Cehlarik’s Boston run: Whenever you were ready to put your faith in him or give him a true opportunity, an injury halted things. You can’t fault players for getting injured, of course, but reliability was certainly an issue.)
Given another shot early into the season, however — and once again paired with Krejci and Coyle over this sample — Cehlarik skated an “average” game on Nov. 2, and then contributed what felt like a hollow assist and failed to record a shot on goal when given a primetime role against the worst team in the league in a losing effort. I mean, what better situation could Cassidy have put Cehlarik in there? He was skating in his natural left-wing spot, next to Krejci on the B’s second line, and skating against the Red Wings. And still, the Bruins got what felt like almost nothing from him.
Really, how many legitimate chances does Cassidy owe a completely unproven player before he realizes that he is what he is?
This isn’t to say that Cehlarik is a player completely devoid of talent. There were times where Cehlarik showed some solid vision and put in some strong net-front work. But there were other times where Cehlarik seemed a step too slow for the NHL and where his vision would become too “tunnel” for its good, often leading to plays to nowhere. It just constantly felt as if Cehlarik was playing a game that while effective in the minors, would never translate against top-tier NHL competition.
Whether or not that was Cassidy’s exact read on Cehlarik, who knows. Only he could tell you his unfiltered thoughts on his game.
But the lack of believability when it came to Cehlarik’s NHL future was not just found behind Boston’s bench, as Cehlarik went unclaimed on waivers and was not part of any trade at the trade deadline. You almost have to assume that if somebody truly believed in him being more than what he’s shown in those 40 NHL showings, they would’ve taken the NHL equivalent of a free sample by way of a waiver claim or pulled the trigger on a low-risk trade to give him that change of scenery.
So with his AHL year and Boston tenure unofficially-but-officially over, it’s on Cehlarik’s camp to find that change of scenery.
If it’s not in the NHL, however, we know who he’s going to blame.
As silly as that will be.